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How do you read an NBA box score?

Sometimes when you’re watching an NBA game, and one player has had a dominant game, you’ll hear the commentator use the phrase “stat-sheet stuffer” or a similar variation of it. If you have ever wondered why commentators say that, you’ll first need to understand what a box score is. An NBA box score, also known as a stat sheet, records some major stats of the teams and/or players from a game.

How do you read an NBA box score? To read a player’s stats from a game, first locate the player’s name within the rows in the left-most column. Then to find a particular stat for the player, locate the stat on the top row: the player’s stat for that game will be where the name row intersects with the stat column. For example, if the player is in row 6, and the stat is in the fourth column (D), the player’s stat will be located in D6.

2022 NBA Finals Game 6 Box Score from Basketball Reference

What is an NBA box score?

The NBA box score is a tracking tool to record statistics from games, and is used to track individual player performances as well as overall team performances. The box score was first used for baseball, as far back as 1859, and has since been used in many professional leagues, including the NBA. The official NBA box score gives some information on the player alongside their stats. There are different kinds of box scores as well: player logs, game logs, team logs, season logs, etc., depending on the information needed.

What different statistics does an NBA box score track?

An NBA box score will have several categories of stats. Let’s break down what a game box score will look like, using the box score for the Dallas Mavericks in their March 13th, 2022 match-up against the Boston Celtics as an example. The left-most column features the players on the Mavericks roster, separated into the 5 starters for that game and the remaining players on the bench. Some players are listed as “DNP – Coach’s Decision”, referring to the fact that they did not register on the box score due to not being put in the game by the coach (rather than not playing due to injury or suspension).

The following stat categories appear on the box score, from left to right: minutes played (MIN), field goals (FG), 3-point shots (3PT), free throws (FT), offensive rebounds (OREB), defensive rebounds (DREB), total rebounds (REB), assists (AST), steals (STL), blocks (BLK), turnovers (TO), personal fouls (PF), plus/minus (+/-), and points scored (PTS).

The game box score also shows stats for the team at the bottom two rows. In the second-last row are the total stats for the team; the only two states that don’t have totals are minutes (since there are a total of 48 minutes in regulation) and plus/minus (an individual stat). The final row also shows team shooting percentages for field goals, 3-point shots, and free throws.

At the start of the 1996/1997 season, the NBA began adding advanced stats to the box score. These advanced stats include offensive rating (OFFRTG), defensive rating (DEFRTG), true shooting percentage (TS%), assist to turnover ratio (AST/TO).

What is the +/- statistic on the NBA box score?

At first glance, the plus-minus stat (+/-) on the box score may be confusing to some. The other stats are quite easy to track compared to the plus-minus stat. Simply put, the plus-minus stat shows the net points of a team when a certain player was on the court. This stat is calculated as such:

Plus-minus value of a player = [points scored by team when a player was on the court] – [points scored against team when a player was on the court]

As an example, refer to the box score for the Dallas Mavericks’ matchup against the Boston Celtics. The highest +/- belongs to Spencer Dinwiddie, at +13. This means that when Dinwiddie was on the court, the Mavericks scored 13 more points than they allowed. The lowest +/- belongs to Josh Green, at -10: the Mavericks allowed 10 more points than they scored with Green on the floor.

The plus-minus value is an interesting stat that shows the impact a player has on the court, on both the defensive and offensive ends. Often, presence itself doesn’t translate to statistics, but the plus-minus value paints a better picture: for example, a good defender may not have lots of blocks or steals, but has a strong positive +/- value. While the plus-minus value is prone to inaccuracy, it is a great start to pair with other traditional stats.

What uses are there for an NBA box score?

Looking at the box score can provide insights to a team and their players. The different categories of stats adds more dimensions to conclusions that can be drawn. Let’s take a look at the Mavericks box score: Dorian Finney-Smith scored 19 points, while Spencer Dinwiddie scored 18 points. However, Finney-Smith had a 63.7% field-goal percentage (7/11), while Dinwiddie had a 35% field-goal percentage (5/14). So while they both scored a similar amount of points, Finney-Smith shot more efficiently and with fewer attempts than Dinwiddie.

Box scores are also good for tracking averages over the course of the season. Game box scores show stats for single games, which isn’t enough to draw conclusions. For example, Maxi Kleiber had the most rebounds according to the game box score against the Celtics, but the team leader in rebounds over the season was Luka Dončić. The NBA also gives titles to the leaders of various statistical categories at the end of the season, which is tracked through a box score format which tracks averages only.

The box score is a relatively simple tool, but paints a great picture when you read it. Some argue that fixating on box scores, and stats in general, are flawed because it ignores the intangibles that one can observe from watching the game. But stats are highly valuable to teams nowadays, who are now more than ever creating advanced stats to create improvements and detect shortcomings from player and team performances. While the box score is not as advanced, it is the basis of the statistics that many NBA teams and fans have come to value and appreciate.